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Why do men’s heads get bigger as they age?

It’s a phenomenon that many people have noticed – as men get older, their heads seem to get bigger and more rounded. This gradual enlargement of the head, medically known as macrocephaly (literally “big head”), is a natural part of the aging process. While women’s heads also grow slightly larger with age, the effect is much more pronounced in men. So what causes men’s noggins to expand over time? There are a few key factors at play, ranging from changes in bone structure to brain growth and even fat deposition.

Changes in Bone Structure

One reason men’s heads get bigger with age is due to changes in the bone structure of the skull. The size and shape of the human skull is determined during childhood and adolescence. During puberty, the seams between skull bones fuse and harden into rigid sutures. These fused sutures leave little room for the skull to expand later in life.

However, as men age, the sutures between frontal, parietal, and temporal bones of the skull begin to ossify (turn into bone) and calcify. This causes the skull sutures to stiffen and thicken over time. As the sutures calcify, small gaps are left between skull bones. This allows for subtle expansion of the head. The parietal bones in particular tend to move apart slightly, increasing the front-to-back depth of the skull. So stiffening and separation of cranial sutures contributes to increased overall head size in aging males.

Continued Brain Growth

While the brain stops developing by the late teens to early 20s, it continues to physically grow and expand well into adulthood. Autopsy studies show that average brain weight increases from around 1,300-1,400g in the early 20s to 1,400-1,500g by the 50s or 60s. This reflects an increase of approximately 10% in total brain volume over the adult lifespan.

Some areas of the brain even add new neurons and neural connections as we age. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for complex cognitive functions like planning and decision-making, continues to thicken into middle age. These ongoing neurological developments require extra space inside the rigid confines of the skull. As the brain grows larger with age, it pushes outward on the internal surface of the cranium. This gradual expansion of brain volume is a major driver of larger head size in older men.

Fluid Retention

Accumulation of excess fluid inside the head can also contribute to enlargement of the cranium in aging males. The brain naturally produces cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to cushion it against impacts. But as the brain ages, the choroid plexus that supplies CSF can become dysfunctional and overproduce fluid. If excess CSF builds up, it results in a condition called hydrocephalus – essentially an increase in head size caused by “water on the brain.”

Hydrocephalus causes enlarged ventricles inside the brain, which puts pressure on the surrounding nervous tissue. This is often what causes noticeable enlargement of head circumference. Certain medications like steroids and conditions like high blood pressure can also cause fluid retention and pressure inside the skull. So edema and hydrocephalus likely play at least a minor role in the bigger heads seen on aging men.

Fat Deposition

Another factor that contributes to an increase in overall head size with age is fatty deposits on the head and neck. As men get older, they tend to put on extra pounds around the midsection. Increased visceral fat around the belly is a hallmark of aging. But excess fat is also deposited in the head region.

The back of the skull features deposits of fat called cephalic lipomas. These fatty growths form layers around the cranium and nape of the neck. Research using CT and MRI scans shows lipomas grow larger with age, especially in men over 60. These pads of fat gradually thicken the neck and widen the diameter of the head. So fat deposition on the head and neck gives the impression of an expanded cranium.

Changes in Muscle Mass

While fat deposits expand with age, muscle mass in the neck shrinks. By the 50s and 60s, men start to lose muscle tone along the trapezius and back of the neck. This effect is exacerbated by the natural depletion of testosterone and growth hormones in aging males. Loss of muscularity along the neck and skull allows fatty tissue to encroach further. This increases the visible width and roundness of the head when viewed from behind. Wider, rounder rear skull contours result from diminished neck muscle supporting the weight of the head.

Posture and Proportion

Changes in posture and bodily proportions can also make the head appear larger in aging men. Starting around age 40, the spinal column naturally compresses due to thinner, weaker intervertebral discs. Loss of height due to vertebral compression gives the illusion of a larger head on a shorter body. The ears, eyes, nose, and mouth remain the same size while overall stature shrinks.

Along with spinal compression, older men develop a more pronounced hunch in the upper back and neck. Their chins tilt forward and the head juts out more to compensate for stooped posture. This makes the head look bigger relative to a more upright youthful posture. Changes in proportions like a thinner neck and wider midsection also exaggerate the apparent size of the head.

Gender Differences

While both men and women experience some degree of head enlargement with age, the effect is more pronounced in men. This gender difference can be attributed to several factors. Men generally have larger skulls to begin with, providing more room for expansion. Additionally, hormonal differences play a role. The higher levels of testosterone in men throughout life may contribute to greater bone growth and remodeling, including in the skull. Moreover, men tend to accumulate more fat deposits around the head and neck area compared to women.

Health Implications

In most cases, the gradual enlargement of the head with age is a benign process and doesn’t cause health problems. However, in some instances, rapid or extreme head growth could be a sign of underlying medical conditions such as hydrocephalus or certain types of tumors. It’s always advisable to consult a healthcare professional if you notice sudden or dramatic changes in head size or shape.

Managing Age-Related Changes

While it’s not possible to completely prevent the natural enlargement of the head with age, there are some steps that may help manage the process:

1. Maintain a healthy weight to minimize fat deposits around the head and neck.
2. Engage in regular exercise, including neck and upper body exercises, to maintain muscle tone.
3. Practice good posture to minimize the appearance of a larger head due to postural changes.
4. Stay hydrated and manage blood pressure to help regulate fluid balance in the body.


In summary, there are a variety of anatomical and physiological factors behind the enlargement of head size seen in aging males:

  • Calcification of skull sutures allows subtle expansion
  • The brain continues growing and puts pressure on the fixed cranial cavity
  • Fluid retention and hydrocephalus expand the cranial cavity
  • Fatty deposits like cephalic lipomas thicken the neck and skull
  • Loss of neck muscle accentuates the rounded contours of the rear cranium
  • Spinal compression and posture changes make the head look bigger vs. the body

So while women’s heads show minimal growth with age, men’s skulls are able to expand thanks to continued brain development, fluid retention, fat deposition, and bony changes to the cranium. These natural effects of aging can increase head circumference by an inch or more by the 60s and beyond. It’s important to remember that this is a normal part of the aging process and rarely causes any health concerns. So next time you notice an older gent with a bigger head, he’s not imagining things! Subtle head enlargement is simply one of the many ways our bodies change as we grow older.

For further reading on this topic, consider consulting medical journals on geriatric anatomy or neurology. Always consult with a healthcare professional for personalized medical advice.